Posted by Thomas Nephew on 21st July 2009
French immersion, Jerry Weast, and the future of the Montgomery County Public School System
Our little girl is not so little any more: she just finished fifth grade in June. Soon after, like many kids at the end of their elementary school years, she and her classmates went on a class trip. Unlike most fifth graders, however, this trip was to Quebec, Canada, and my daughter and her classmates conversed in fluent French with the tour guide, hotel staff, and assorted other Quebecois.
Fifth grade class trip to Quebec: future diplomats, businesswomen,
scientists, and scholars understanding and speaking fluent French.
If this is a boutique program, it’s a triumph, and we need more of them.
Video by Madeleine Nephew.
To the right is a video Maddie took while on a guided bus tour of the city. I took a few years of French way back in junior high school and high school. But even back then, I think I’d have had next to no idea what the tour guide was jabbering on about. The kids, by contrast, are understanding the tour guide, answering questions, and likely joking with and about each other — all in French.
It’s all thanks to one of the hidden gems — all too well-hidden, perhaps — of Montgomery County, Maryland’s public schools (MCPS): a French immersion program that comprises about half of the student body at Sligo Creek Elementary School in Silver Spring. The program is one of seven K-5 language immersion programs in the system. *
Language immersion programs are exactly what they sound like: kids are dropped into a kindergarten setting in which the teacher speaks only French from the time the kids walk into the room until the time they leave for home. By the end of kindergarten — much sooner, really — they’re doing all the things any kindergartener does: lining up for lunch, singing songs, drawing pictures, starting to read stories — all while instructed in French. And by the end of fifth grade, they’re doing much more sophisticated projects; for her part, Maddie did one on “la lutte pour le vote des femmes americaines” – a nicely written, five page poster history of American women’s struggle for the vote.
The case of the missing half time teacher
While looking over the MCPS web site one evening in January, my wife came across a “Q&A” exchange (between school board members and MCPS staff about the 2010 budget. Question 10 read: “Will the reduction of 8.7 elementary special program teacher positions impact the French Immersion classes at Sligo Creek Elementary School?” The answer — unbeknownst to the school administration until my wife told them about it — was yes, but don’t worry about it too much: